Teams scour the NFL Scouting Combine looking for freakish athletic talent capable of keeping opposing passing games “on an island.” Assessing whether a defensive back will develop into a shutdown corner is difficult, but Dave Archibald continues his review of the most intriguing CB prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Draftniks such as Mike Mayock and Dane Brugler peg Michigan State CB Trae Waynes as the #1 cornerback prospect entering April’s draft. The redshirt junior played a significant role in the Spartans’ 11-2 season, logging 46 tackles, eight passes defensed, and three interceptions. He further cemented his high draft status by running a position-best 4.31-second 40-yard-dash at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine.
Tale of the Tape
The chart below shows Waynes’s measurement and performance in combine drills, as well as the percentile rank of how these figures stack up to other cornerbacks since 1999:
|Height||Weight||Arm Length||Hand Span||40-Yard Dash||Bench Press||Vertical Leap||Broad Jump||Short Shuttle||3-Cone Drill|
|72”||186 lbs.||31”||8.25”||4.31 s||19||38”||122”||4.39 s||7.06 s|
Data from NFLCombineResults.com
Waynes has good height and supplements it with strong leaping ability, suggesting he’ll be able to cover taller NFL receivers. He is a little light but showed good strength in the bench. Waynes’s 40 time was terrific but he struggled in the agility drills, particularly the 20-yard shuttle in which he posted the third-worst time among defensive backs in 2015. This is not necessarily a red flag, as two of the NFL’s elite corners, Richard Sherman (4.33, 13th percentile) and Joe Haden (4.34, 11th percentile), also fared poorly in this drill.
What He Does Well
Defend the Deep Ball
College offenses had a difficult time completing deep passes against Waynes. While his height leaves small windows for opposing quarterbacks, his speed allows him to stay in front of receivers and recover in the rare instances that they do get behind him:
Waynes (#15) is across from Penn State’s leading receiver DaeSean Hamilton (#5), who cuts like he’s running a slant before bursting up the sideline. The cornerback stays balanced in his backpedal, then smoothly swivels to run with Hamilton up the sideline. Staying in great position, he looks back over his right shoulder, then turns his head to look over his left shoulder with a minimal loss of speed.
Waynes does put his hands on Hamilton past the five-yard “chuck” zone, unnecessary given the solid coverage. The cornerback will have to adjust to the strict enforcement of illegal contact and holding in the NFL, as this play could have drawn a flag. That should not take away from the coverage skills on display here: Waynes shows patience, recognition, speed, and fluid athleticism.
The Nittany Lions decided to test him again later in the contest, with disastrous results:
Waynes (#15) mirrors Chris Godwin (#12), who runs a streak up the sideline. Waynes stays tight in coverage but doesn’t look back for the ball until late. Thanks to his great positioning ‒ and a throw that tails too far toward the middle of the field ‒ he plays Godwin’s hands as the pass arrives. He swats the ball from the receiver’s grasp and snatches it out of the air for an interception.
Waynes’s ability to defend the deep ball makes him an ideal fit for teams that run a lot of press-man coverage, as offenses often counter press coverage by running streaks or fades. He’s also a great fit for teams that use a lot of Cover 3, as the outside corner is responsible for the deep sideline.
Waynes isn’t just a fit for man-based schemes or Cover 3 defenses, however. Michigan State runs a variety of different defensive looks and coverage shells, as in this 2013 play against Minnesota:
Waynes lines up as if in press coverage, and gives a brief jam to the receiver across from him, who runs a cross to the middle of the field. However, Waynes doesn’t follow his man, dropping in front of K.J. Maye (#1), who runs an out route. The cornerback gets a lot of depth on his drop, indicating he’d done his homework and anticipated this route combination. The quarterback never sees Waynes and the corner hauls in his second interception of the game.
Without the benefit of all-22 footage, it’s difficult to tell if this is pure zone defense or a reaction to a certain route combination, but it shows that Waynes can do more than just stick with the man in front of him. The junior understands offenses and he plays in space, making him a fit for teams that primarily use zone defense.
Waynes is a solid run defender for a college player ‒ and a willing and able tackler for one weighing just 186 pounds. He’s not a big hitter, but displays solid fundamentals and technique. At the pro level, like most college players, Waynes must improve his consistency in defeating blocks and in setting the edge on outside runs.
Waynes played on the kickoff unit for the Spartans, and his speed and tackling ability will let him contribute on special teams early in his career.
Areas to Improve
Defensive players often play on defense for a reason:
Waynes had six interceptions in his final two seasons at Michigan State, but he left a few more on the field with drops. At times, he looks for the ball late despite good positioning, letting teams complete back-shoulder throws. Waynes has small hands, so he may always drop some balls, but if he can be more aware in man coverage he can haul in more interceptions.
Johnathan Joseph. The 2006 first-rounder out of South Carolina is Waynes’s doppelgänger in terms of size, speed, college resume, and Combine performance. Joseph is a two-time Pro Bowler and one of the NFL’s most consistent cornerbacks.
Waynes is a fine cornerback prospect for the NFL. College teams rarely attacked him, and those who did ‒ like Penn State ‒ paid for it. He’s a safe pick, with experience in multiple defensive shells and both man-to-man and zone concepts. He will have to learn to avoid unnecessary contact and to play more consistently against the run, but Waynes has all the tools and skills to be a solid cornerback for the team that drafts him for a long time to come.
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